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GB youth dissatisfied with governance: survey

ISLAMABAD: The young people of Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) aged between 18-35 drawn from across the society have expressed deep concerns and dismay over poor governance and malpractices of the elected government and political leadership in a survey conducted by the Centre for Peace, Development and Reforms (CPDR), a peace-building organisation of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
Mariana Baabar

The survey was published in the CPDR’s recently published report titled ‘Unheard voices of Hamalayas: engaging youth of Gilgit-Baltistan’ authored by Syed Waqas Ali and Taqi Akhunzada. Ershad Mehmud, who heads the CPDR, made available to The News the findings of the report which according to him “reflects the opinion of young people against the backdrop of the Kashmir conflict and its constitutional limbo. Gilgit-Baltistan’s youth talk about the pressing socio-political and economic problems they face without any fear and enjoy freedom. On the current system of governance, almost 70 percent of the total 425 young people surveyed believe that it has given them their identity and, at least, a space where they can legislate on a range of local issues for better governance and development.”

One of the young participants in the survey described that young people of Gilgit-Baltistan strongly felt that their major problem is rooted in the undefined and ambiguous constitutional status of the region. The report not only covers all the major issues faced by the youth, but also gives a detailed account of the genesis of various issues young people face in Gilgit-Baltistan.

Syed Waqas Ali, the principal researcher, is of the view that more than anything else, it’s the state structure which makes people feel disengaged and alienated from the federal government as it hardly allows them access to the decision-making process. Problems such as constitutional identity, ambiguous relationship with Pakistan, historical attachment to the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir and Kashmir issue are haunting the people of Gilgit-Baltistan and particularly the young generation who is civically active and vibrant. According to the report, the Gilgit-Baltistan Council, established in 2009 as an Upper House with the prime minister of Pakistan as its chairman, along with six federal ministers as its members, has become a major decision-making body and undermines whatever limited autonomy is available to the elected leadership. This council has the supra legitimate right to legislate on 55 subjects.

The council oversees the appointments on constitutional positions like chief court judges, auditor general, chief election commissioner and chairman of the public service commission. The elected legislative assembly is now functional, but all major decisions are still effectively taken by the federal government in Islamabad through the mechanism of the Gilgit-Baltistan Council. It has made the Gilgit-Baltistan government a subservient body in the eyes of the local people.

The report says that sustained denial of constitutional and political rights under the pretext of the Kashmir conflict has led to a deep suspicion of the federal government and its treatment of the people of Gilgit-Baltistan. Participants in this research generally welcomed the Gilgit-Baltistan Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009.

“Almost 82 percent of those surveyed believe that it is a positive step. Almost 70 percent of young people surveyed believe that it has given them their identity and, at least, a space where they can legislate on a range of local issues. One of the youth surveyed said, “This should be taken as start of a journey, which should end on the equal rights and representation in the National Assembly and Senate of Pakistan,” says Ershad Mehmud.

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